LOVE TO WANDER
Amsterdam is a city full of surprises - here are ten things you might not know about it:
We were very pleased with our choice of hotel for our short break in Amsterdam. The Pulitzer is a comfortable hotel and ideally located right in the centre of the city. Everywhere you want to visit is within easy walking distance. The rooms are nicely decorated with a modern feel and every effort is made to provide you with everything you need for your stay including a shopping bag, a brolly and even a bike repair kit!
There are a number of pleasant gardens within the hotel where you can take breakfast, sip a cocktail or just relax for a while and listen to the bells on the neighbouring church and the birds in the trees. There are two choices for breakfast if you opt to have it included - the buffet (served in the Jansz restaurant) or waitress service in the area adjacent to the hotel lobby or on the flower filled tables in the garden area. The fare on offer is much the same in both, but we found the waitress service a much nicer all round experience. You certainly don't need lunch if you take full advantage of the breakfast though - it is a sumptuous banquet of hot and cold platters with a choice of freshly made smoothies or cava to accompany it - allow plenty of time! Waitress service breakfast has to be pre-booked in advance as the number of tables are limited.
If you are looking for a cheaper option than the Pulitzer, a fun choice might be a houseboat. There are plenty to choose from on Air B &B and many have three bedrooms, making it a good choice for a family or a group of friends.
We had just half a day left to spend in Amsterdam before an early afternoon flight back to the UK. The only area of the city that we hadn't really explored so far was the Rembrandtplein. Getting to it gave us the perfect excuse to walk back in warm sunshine through some of the prettiest canals and streets and soak up the atmosphere of a quiet Sunday morning in Amsterdam. On Sundays, the square is filled with artists displaying their wares and makes a pleasant place for a stroll and a coffee stop to watch the world go by for a moment or two. As we hadn't managed to see Rembrandt's Nightwatch at the Rijksmuseum, it was good to see a huge 3D statue of it in the square. Visiting after dark would have been a completely different experience I think though - there are many bars here and I am sure it would be pretty lively at night.
There is a lot to see in this city - although we saw most of the major sites and walked through every part of the city - we were both left wanting more. and a return visit someday is definitely on the list. The liberal attitude to almost everything makes it a relaxing place to be - even though it is a capital city. You can pretty well be anything you want to be here. The low crime rate and low-key policing make it a safe city to visit on a girly trip or solo.
Wish I had seen: - Sigh ... The Rijksmuseum, and Petronella's doll's house.
Wish I had packed: A mobile phone power pack - the navigation app used a lot of battery power. Definitely on my list to buy for future travels.
So - are you wondering whether my curiosity around soft drugs got the better of me ...?
We could have chosen to visit the Rijksmuseum today and maybe we should have, but we would have needed to get there for opening time 9am to avoid long queues and we opted instead for a visit to the Canal House - Het Grachtenhuis.
This beautiful house gives you a really good feel for how the houses of wealthy merchants in Amsterdam's heyday would have been decorated and furnished. It also house an excellent series of cleverly designed and entertaining sound and light exhibits that explain carefully how Amsterdam was planned and built though the years as it's population grew. There is a beautiful doll's house inside which comes to life with audio visual techniques you can control through your audio guide. All the canal houses in Amsterdam have beautiful gardens behind them that you can't see from the road, so it was lovely to be able to take a walk around the beautifully designed garden in this house which was created to look like a collection of townhouses and gardens in the city. NB - Shut on Mondays.
We had walked a long way over the last couple of days and so opted for a ride on the metro to our next stop which would otherwise have taken around an hour and a half to walk to. Albert Cuypmarkt is a busy street market that sells a wide variety of things you need and things you don't and also has THE best place to buy Stroopwafels, which was the main reason for our visit. The return metro ticket whisked us effortlessly back towards the Canal Ring in good time for a 5pm canal tour with "Those Dam Boat Guys" starting from Cafe Wester. If you only have time to take one canal tour, then this small group (8) is the tour you should pick. Read more for the link to their website ...
Anne Frank House
We had pre-booked tickets for an 8:45am tour and we made sure we were very prompt.
The only way to visit is with a ticket purchased online in advance for a defined time slot. Tickets are released in phases from two months in advance and demand outstrips supply. 80% of tickets are released exactly two months in advance at 12:00 hours noon (Amsterdam time). If you leave it until the day you want to visit, the remaining 20% of tickets are made available on line at 9.00 (Amsterdam time), but tickets sell out very fast.
The tours are very well managed - you follow an audio guided route, but have plenty of time to see and hear everything without feeling rushed. Seeing the bookcase that hid the entrance to the attic I had read about with such disbelief when I was just a few years younger than Anne Frank herself was a special moment. It is one of the few pieces of furniture in the house, which is a shame - you have to imagine the rest from the pictures. One of the most poignant parts of the diary I remember is Anne's description of the taunting church bells chiming whilst being a prisoner and unable to go out into the streets. As we walked up the steep little staircase, gazing up the ladder into the attic room itself, the church bells began to chime and the words she had written came to life again. She wrote that she wanted to go on living even after her death and she certainly achieved that. Written in a number of places in the house are the words "All her would haves are our opportunities", which sums up the history lessons of this place very well.
There were so many choices for how best to spend the rest of the day ...
It is always a thrill when a flight drops you instantly into somewhere new. When there is no length to the journey though, the contrast between home and your destination are definitely sharpened and Amsterdam is certainly very different from the UK. There are as many bikes as people, more canals than Venice, alcohol is sold in cafes, marihuana is sold in coffee shops and prostitution is legal. It's only the fact that English is fluently spoken universally that makes it feel anything like home.
I am travelling with my daughter on this trip and we have three days to get to know Amsterdam and appreciate the best it has to offer. I am looking forward to sharing the journey with her and seeing a new city through her eyes as much as my own. We have based ourselves at the Pulitzer Hotel right in the centre of Amsterdam so we don't waste too much time getting from A to B (see accommodation review for more detail). Read more to see how we managed to fit everything in to the short time we had available.